Healthy and happy ageing is not simply a question of good genes, but also of taking control of your life, as is apparent from the research of sociologist Nardi Steverink. To help people in this process, she developed the GRIP en GLANS (Grip and Glow) course. Course participant Zwanet van Dijken (76) is enthusiastic as she reflects back on the course. ‘I would highly recommend it to anyone.’
Text: Beau Oldenburg
Photograph of Nardi Steverink: Hans van Dijk/ Photograph of Zwanet van Dijken: Helen Vis
‘When someone tipped me about the course, my first thought was: I don't believe that this is for me. It is probably for people who feel a bit lonely. But then I thought: Why not? There is always something new to learn. And it was only six sessions, which I thought was doable. Looking back, I'm really happy that I went. I met lovely people, and I can now talk about my feelings more easily.’
Zwanet van Dijken (76) took part in the GRIP en GLANS course, a group course for people aged 50 and older. Over the course of six sessions, course participants are invited to work on their physical, mental, and social health. Which is really needed sometimes, says Professor Nardi Steverink — an authority in the field of healthy and happy ageing, and the creator of the programme: ‘In the second half of life, people increasingly have to deal with loss in various areas of life. These losses can build on one another. Reduced mobility can for instance result in people spending more time at home, which in turn can make them feel lonely and downcast. And this then may lead to people becoming even less active.’
According to Steverink, it is therefore crucial that people remain active and take control of their lives. That they do not focus on what is no longer possible, but on that which is still possible. To help people in this process, she developed GRIP en GLANS. ‘Older people often feel that they have little control over their situation. In the course, they learn to make changes to improve their lives, for example to feel less lonely. Once you get more ‘grip’, your life can also get more ‘glow’.
The course starts with a self-diagnosis: How am I doing? This is done using a tool called the Glow Wheel of Five. This tool is based on Steverink's research, which revealed five important human needs. ‘For example, if in the ‘affection’ section, all you can write is ‘the cat’, there is clearly room for improvement.’ After filling in the pie-chart, the participants reflect on what they would like to change or add, and they get to work to make it happen. Their progress is then discussed in the group. ‘We don't want people to become dependent on the course or the trainer, but instead to take responsibility for their own well-being.’
Van Dijken also filled in the pie-chart. It made her realize that even though she had been perfectly happy on her own for years, she did enjoy doing things with other people. ‘For a long time, I organized my life on my own, and I am actually a bit of a loner. But as you get older, things don't get easier. I am all alone, and many of the people I used to know are no longer there. I discovered that there is this extra pleasure in doing things together with other people. And it is a good motivator to not stay at home, but to go out and do something.’
Van Dijken is visibly enthusiastic as she recounts that the five course participants in her group still meet on a regular basis. ‘We had such a great connection. It was really very special! Especially since we were such a diverse group, each with our own history and baggage. But everyone was really open, and we shared a lot with one another. After the course, we started a WhatsApp group, and we send each other a card when it's someone's birthday. The other day, we all went on a city tour, and afterwards, one person in the group invited the rest to their place for a glass of wine. It was great fun! We also have plans for a Karaoke night with traditional Dutch songs.’
In addition to providing her with some fun contacts, GRIP en GLANS also helped Van Dijken to talk about her feelings more. ‘Wanting to keep it all bottled up inside may be something that is typical of us as stiff Northerners,’ she says with an apologetic laugh. ‘I am now a bit more open to other people. Even though it's not always easy to talk about feelings.’ She also saw how the programme helped bring change to other people. ‘There was one person who had quite a negative attitude to life. As the course progressed, she really livened up and even started laughing again.’
Since 2017, approximately 765 Dutch people completed the GRIP en GLANS course. Steverink: ‘In the past years, we conducted a number of studies on the impact of the course. These studies show that it really works: people who take the course experience more control over their lives, they are more at ease, and feel less lonely. And we also see that these effects persist in the longer term.’ It is therefore no surprise that the programme was assessed as ‘effective’ by an independent committee of the Movisie knowledge institute in 2017.
In the coming months, Steverink and her colleagues plan to investigate whether the programme could also work for other target groups. Steverink: ‘The course was originally intended for women aged 50 and older. This group is greatly at risk of ending up alone. But we see that men and people younger than 50 are also interested in taking part. As an experiment, two trainers in Groningen offered the course to people living on welfare for a long time. Research by PhD student Amber Vellinga-Dings seems to suggest that the course is also effective for this group.’
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